The European Health Congress on Obesity met in Athens, Greece last week and the statistics they released should alarm every parent around the world - 20-36% of children in the US and Europe are OBESE with many already suffering the ailings of middle-age adults.
By the numbers, obesity rates reported at the congress:
- England = 20 percent
- Spain = 30 percent
- United States = 30 percent
- Italy = 36 percent
Is it any wonder when various studies show that children are consuming more than 33% of their calories from pizza, snacks and desserts? That their main source of calories is from sodas and sweet beverages? With too many "empty calories" each day, obesity is inevitable. And with it comes all the trappings of such indulgence - degeneration, inflammation and disease.
Can we reverse this trend?
Of course we can.
But first we must acknowledge the problem isn't the child's fault - they learn their eating habits from the adults around them. Every adult who interacts with a child has a responsibility to that child to guide them and teach them good eating habits. This includes parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, caregivers, teachers, coaches and family friends.
Ten Steps to Better Nutrition for Children...
1. Turn off the TV, the computer and the video games and send the kids outside to play in the fresh air and sunshine as they wait for dinner to be ready.
2. Get active as a family - take a walk after dinner, play in the yard, build sandcastles on the beach together, go hiking in the woods, window shop without buying anything on a rainy day, go to the playground, wrestle in the family room or just play simon says. It doesn't matter what you do as long as it's activity and it's together!
3. Eliminate junk food from your home. No more buying sodas, chips, candy, donuts, cake, cookies each week. These are now "special treats" that are allowed occassionally at birthday parties, family gatherings or special holidays. Special treats should not be allowed more than once a week.
4. Establish a definition of what a "healthy snack" is for your kids - fruits, cut veggies with a dip, nuts, seeds, string cheese are all acceptable types of snacks that provide both energy for your child and nutrients too. Healthy snacks should not be a large amount of food or high in calories - just enough to satisfy a taste of something while holding off hunger until the next meal.
5. Establish limits to snack times in a day. Snacking shouldn't be an "anytime" occassion but available when a child is truly hungry and will not make it to the next meal without a nibble of something small. One or two snacks a day should be enough when you consider the next full meal is just an hour or so away.
6. Sit down as a family to eat. Research shows that families that eat together regularly are in better health and have less weight problems.
7. Learn to cook if you depend on convenience foods, restaurant meals and take out more than twice a week. Yes, it's more time consuming, but isn't your family worth it? In countries where obesity rates are lowest, the data shows that 75% of meals are consumed at home and are prepared with fresh ingredients.
8. If you're a short-order cook in the kitchen each day - stop now. Make one meal for the family and if the child decides they do not like what you have prepared, they can wait until the next meal or eat from those selections they do like at the meal. When you focus on just one meal, you can better balance the nutritional value of the foods you make and better ensure your child is eating a healthy balance of foods.
9. Offer variety at each meal - with vegetables (potatoes don't count) at center stage. There is no reason to eliminate any one food group (unless there are allergies) from your child's repetoire, but do be sure you serve balanced meals - vegetable, protein, quality oils/fats, and one starchy item. For example, spaghetti with tomato sauce and bread isn't balanced - it's too starchy. Balance such a meal with some meatballs or sausage (nitrite free) for complete protein, make the sauce a "garden style" sauce rich with vegetables, serve a side of fresh green beans and a salad with olive oil (quality oil) and vinegar and skip the bread. By doing this, the portion of spaghetti is smaller and the family is eating more vegetables, that provide more nutrients, than they would have!
10. Be the role model your child needs you to be. Don't eat in the car, watching television, in bed or anywhere else that is teaching your child that eating is an "anytime, anywhere" affair. In countries with the lowest obesity rates, another clear difference is found in their eating habits when compared with ours - they eat at the table in the kitchen or dining room for the vast majority of meals and snacks and enforce the rule with their children to do the same. If you yourself want to eat foods that are less than "healthy" that's OK - but do it when your child is not around to watch and learn!